Recognizing Litigation Abuse as a Form of Family Violence: Understanding the Concept and the Potential Harm

Date: September 27, 2022 | 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm EST

Litigation abuse often extends the coercive and controlling behaviour used during the relationship into the family court process. Using litigation tactics, such as making or threatening to make meritless claims; introducing false or irrelevant evidence; and causing unnecessary delays in the court proceedings, the abuser causes significant psychological and financial harm to the targeted parent and to their children.

In this webinar, we will explore common litigation abuse tactics and their consequences to survivors and their children.
  • Professor Bala will provide context on legal thinking and decisions on litigation abuse.
  • Dr. Gutowski will present her research on litigation abuse and introduce the Legal Abuse Scale.
  • Jared Hydamaka will share his lived experience as a child who dealt with litigation abuse.
  • Justice Sirivar will discuss the challenges in identifying and managing these issues in court. 


ellen gutowskiEllen R. Gutowski, PhD (pronouns: she/her) is an Assistant Professor at University of Toronto in the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development. Her interests include promoting the well-being of underserved populations, understanding the role of psychosocial factors (stress, trauma, relationships) in mental health and functioning, and engaging in social justice/anti-oppression work within teaching and clinical practice. Her current research centers on intimate partner violence. She is particularly committed to understanding how systems-level responses to those affected may either promote well-being or unintentionally cause harm. She is a scientist-practitioner who completed her PhD at Boston College, a clinical fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and a doctoral internship at Emory School of Medicine.


justice sirivar Justice Sirivar will discuss the challenges courts face in identifying and responding to litigation abuse.

Justice Maria N. Sirivar, Ontario Court of Justice, Toronto, Madam Justice Maria N. Sirivar is a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice who is currently assigned to the Toronto Family and Youth Court at 311 Jarvis Street and has been there since her appointment in 2018. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Western University and an Honours Business Administration degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business. Justice Sirivar graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School (2006) and was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 2007. Prior to her appointment, she ran her own practice (Sirivar Law) focused on family and employment law. Justice Sirivar was also an agent for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and duty counsel. Prior to starting her own practice, Justice Sirivar was an associate at Faskens and Air Morse LLP. Justice Sirivar is bilingual and presides over French and English proceedings in Family and Youth Criminal court.

nicholas-bala.pngProfessor Bala will discuss recent court case, patterns in court judgements and findings related to litigation abuse.

Nicholas (Nick) Bala has been at the Faculty of Law at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada since 1980, focussing his work on issues related to children and families involved in the justice system. Much of his research is interdisciplinary, and he has undertaken collaborative projects with psychologists, social workers, criminologists, and health professionals. He has published extensively, and his work is often quoted by courts in Canada, as well as by judges in other countries, and he has contributed to law reform across Canada. Prof. Bala was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2013 and named a Distinguished University Professor at Queen’s in 2019.

jared-hydamaka.pngJared Hydamaka will discuss the impact of litigation abuse on children who are involved in that family court process.

Jared Hydamaka is a 22-year-old UBC student who hopes to go to law school once he finishes his BA in Philosophy and Psychology. For 20 years, the Family Justice System engulfed his and his mother’s life, and it continues to play an active role in their lives today. Jared began his own legal journey at 15-years-old by getting involved in his parents’ conflict and since the age of 17, he has spent over 400 hours volunteering in various advisory boards, conferences, and presentations within the legal system. Jared’s most recent volunteer work involves aiding in the redesign of the B.C. Online Parenting After Separation Course (OPAS), speaking at a Continuing Legal Education Society of BC (CLEBC) conference, presenting as a Keynote Speaker at a National Justice Institute (NJI) conference, and being involved in ongoing youth advocacy with the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab. In his spare time, he enjoys working out, gaming, golfing, bartending and spending time in the mountains skiing and hiking.


* This webinar is presented in English with simultaneous French translation.